A few weeks ago, Instagram announced that it would be restricting –and in some cases completely removing– posts promoting weight loss or weight loss products. These posts will apparently be unavailable to users under 18 years of age because of serious concerns in certain quarters that they may encourage undue pressure and anxiety in adolescents to lose weight. According to the company, “We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media.”
This bold move has been greeted with a lot of support from many adults the world over and Instagram’s actions has been cited as exemplary in various public statements in the weeks following its announcement. To be clear, I too find this decision commendable. I truly think this stance is an admirable attempt by Instagram to regulate to some degree, the consumption of a lot of crap our youngsters (or us for that matter) shouldn’t have to care about.
Now these kids don’t actually have to care about any of these ads, none of us do. And if the company has serious concerns about the effects of weight loss ads on our minors, surely one might reasonably surmise that the complaints of concerned adults –maybe even parents– must have contributed to such serious concerns. All of which brings me to my dilemma because it has left me wondering if Instagram is stuck with parental duties it shouldn’t have to be concerned with in the first place.
Put differently, this move to regulate data consumption by Instagram, while highly commendable for a social media company, seems to me like yet another way of avoiding the bigger issue we need to address. This move against “quick-fix” dietary products is in itself, just a quick fix. Like placing a band aid over an injury in need of stitches. The problem here goes way deeper than some weight loss posts; it really isn’t rocket science.
First of all, it worries me that we have managed to raise a generation of children so fragile and insecure, and gullible, that a post about a ‘wellness’ product could pose a grave danger to their mental wellbeing. A wellness product, ladies and gentlemen. It’s important that you try to get the context here. Instagram is not removing posts attacking or bullying children for their weight. Neither is it even removing gruesome videos about gun violence in schools or armed robberies shared by news network sites. Apparently, our youngsters don’t need saving from any of that because Instagram is very plainly, protecting our kids from posts that advertise weight loss products. So yeah, how do they even need saving from weight issues, of all things?
Secondly, in this day and age, a litany of things brings pressure to children and adults alike. I recently explored the topic of the deficiency economy where we are continuously pushed to care about more things than we actually need. We sometimes find ourselves running after some stranger’s definition of success on the internet such that the photoshopped images of flawless models trigger anxiety for an amazingly large number of users. Pictures of white beaches, posted by travel bloggers and ‘social influencers’ bring pressure, especially when you are working two jobs and still can’t seem to make an indent on your student or personal debts.
My point is that Instagram’s intervention to protect the mental wellbeing of our kids is all lovely but what happens next? And by that I mean what else do we delete from the mix to ‘save’ our kids and teens and make ourselves feel better about our parenting/mentoring skills? Must we remove articles about luxury accessories they can’t afford from fashion magazines lest they cause depression? And what about the million other ads that pop up on our television screens? Do we ban posts about career success so we don’t pressure the hundreds and thousands of people who are jobless? And for just how long?
The deeper problem here is the issue of influence and control. Social media-induced anxiety is one of the rare situations where the “victim” is actually in a position of power. He/she possesses the solution to tackle their own anxiety. The simple solution would be to regulate the usage of their phone wouldn’t it? Well, this appears to be impossible because these days, the average young person regards their phone as practically their entire life. Social media companies work hard for things to be this way (seeing as they need to stay in business and having you addicted to your phone is profitable), and because the rest of us are too busy to do otherwise, we unwittingly slap cellphones into the palms of our little ones from the word go. And when these devices become the only compasses they rely on, we excuse their behaviors on account of the fact that they are young. And we go on excusing till the day we no longer can.
Now excuse my French but parental control has gone to shit, and that right there is the problem. These days, social platforms wield more influence over children than the adults in their lives actually have. Instagram (alongside every other app) is just here for the sales. It’s important that you remember this because deficiency had really become the new currency. Put differently, weight loss ads aren’t the problem, the problem is that our kids already suffer from inferior senses of self-worth. This means for instance that they see weight loss posts and feel gross about their own bodies. All of which means that their mental well-being might then take a nose-dive to God-knows-where. Like I said, it’s not rocket science.
In all this, here is the truth that no one wants to say aloud: we have succeeded in outsourcing parenting. We have completely handed over the reins of raising and grooming our little ones to devices, celebrities and influencers profiting from our children’s attention, and to wealthy companies financing the internet world. Instagram has become tasked with the duty of doctoring our minors on the finer points of body image and we have handed YouTube the brushes that will help it make-up our their minds.
The answer seems pretty straightforward. Adults should stop whining about how the internet has made communication with kids difficult and actually communicate with them. Spend morning walks with their kids, and listen to whatever problems they share or any self-destructive thoughts the teenage mind breeds. Take time to connect with them and actually be present in those moments. Listen, be patient, show them that you are interested in their lives outside of their education and their grades.
I grew up in a community where the concept of ‘a one-man’s child’ was incomprehensible. A name like Obiora (which literally translates as heart of the people) was common back in the day and luckily, in my country, it still is. Adults whenever possible cleared whatever misguided teenage fantasies any of us labored under and it didn’t matter that you weren’t blood relatives. Because they knew that we were all theirs. And that even though parenting is tough, we would all turn out okay if we all help each other out. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
But I can’t really suggest any of this here can I? Because it’s a busy world out there; and its tough enough making a living to keep these children off the streets and away from destructive paths. Because each child is different and besides, since we figured it out, they too eventually would. And because the stress of raising a child in a developed country couldn’t possible compare to raising one in a third world State. Parenting is tough and dicey and tasking, which is why I shouldn’t dare critique any one’s skill as far as raising their kids go. People don’t enjoy being told how to raise their children.
Unless of course, you reduce your lecture to a video and post it on YouTube. Then parents will let their children watch it.
- What People Really Think of Social Media Influencers
- We All Want To Be Seen: How Society Created Fashion’s Influencer Culture
- Why I Hate Influencer Culture
- Family As ‘Brand’ – The Rise of the Digital Mumpreneur
- What Fashion Bloggers Can Teach Us About Consumerism
- Can Sustainable Fashion Influencers Really Change The World?
- Why We Need More Intellectuals To Be Influencers and Noisemakers
- How to Challenge Neoliberalism’s Mantra of Consumerism and Infinite Growth to Save the Planet
All images via Shutterstock.